Christian Mission Trips Build Relationships as They Spread the Gospel
The Great Commission
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Bart Mitchell with several of the local Guatemalan Children. This photo was taken by one of the children with his camera.
It’s so easy to just look away. To pretend like it’s not happening. To stand back and say, “Well, at least I don’t have to live there.” Well, that may be fine for some people, but for others, not so much. Many people feel a strong personal desire to help their fellow man — both physically and spiritually. Many thousands, if not millions, of caring individuals from all walks of life make the commitment to do just that in the form of mission work.
There are at least three different types of mission work today. One is strictly secular in nature, the most notable example being the Peace Corps. There are also medical missions such as Doctors Without Borders. The third, and perhaps oldest, form of missionary work is based on religious principles. For Christians, the ultimate purpose of a mission trip is to carry out the Great Commission set forth in Matthew 28, which describes Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
In Tallahassee, several churches and volunteer ministries field mission expeditions to various parts of the world, although “domestic” missions are not uncommon. In either case the goal, according to Celebration Baptist Church’s Heidi Stidham, is to create what she calls a “Godly ripple effect.”
Lake Atitlan (above) is the deepest lake in Central America (1,120 feet) and is located near Panajachel, Guatemala, where the group from Porch de Salomon stay; (below) Photo of construction site. All materials are carried in by hand, footers are dug by hand, concrete is mixed by hand and poured in five-gallon buckets.
“A positive and Godly ripple effect would be the greatest outcome of a mission trip — both for believers and for those who were on the receiving end of the mission work performed,” said Stidham, the church’s mission coordinator.
Celebration offers mission trips to Central America, the Alsace region of France, Nicaragua, West Shoa in Ethiopia, and Mumbai and Assam in India. Closer to home, a special youth ministry also goes to Mobile, Ala.
The role of modern mission work may appear simple — helping others — but it entails a lot of travel, hard work, courage and dedication.
Bart Mitchell, co-owner of Peter Mitchell Associates, knows too well what the hard work part involves. Mitchell has twice volunteered with Porch de Salomon, a faith-based and interdenominational Tallahassee ministry. This mission provides food and medicine, and builds simple houses in Panajachel, Guatemala. The work was not for the faint of heart. Just to construct a simple cinderblock building with a concrete floor involved carrying all the materials (rock, sand and aggregates) in five-gallon buckets, by hand, for almost a mile up and down switchback roads.
“We called it the ‘Trail of Tears.’ It was brutal,” he said.
For the mission-going congregation of First Baptist Church of Tallahassee, mission trips are about providing leadership training, local short-term impact and encouragement, according to Senior Pastor William “Bill” Shiell.
“The biggest shift in mission trips that I’ve seen is a genuine desire to assist local people and make a difference,” he said. “In the old days, groups would fly in, do whatever they wanted, return, show slides and do something different next year. Now the discussion is always about making a sustainable impact on the people that you are serving.”
Shiell said approximately 100 people from his church go on missions every year and that the church supports two families who live overseas in Brazil and East Asia.
Killearn United Methodist supports ongoing missions in Asia, Guatemala, Cuba and Leon, Nicaragua. Dr. Judith Lewis, a physician with Southern Medical Group, has journeyed to Leon three times in recent years; twice as part of a medical mission and once with her family. She said the medical needs of these impoverished areas are staggering.
“We would do a clinic in each of four churches over the period of a week,” she said. “When I do that, we’ll see 75 people per doctor per day, which is easily three times what I see in the office. Last time I went we had four practitioners: myself, Dr. John P. Fogarty, the dean of the FSU College of Medicine who also goes to my church; Dr. David Miles, a retired urologist; and Linda Bianco, who is a nurse practitioner.”
Celebration Baptist sends, on average, five people per overseas mission trip. “We try to take anywhere from five to 10 trips in a calendar year. Ethiopia is a destination that we send people to regularly,” Stidham said. “Over the last five years, we have sent doctors to work in the local hospital, teachers to lead Bible studies, students to love and play with the children and, most recently, a water team to build a well.”
The actual size of each mission contingent varies from church to church, but organizers said it’s not a good idea having too many people go on each trip.
“These groups can be anywhere (in size) from two or three people to 40 people, but our mission director likes to bring about 15–25. You get over 25 people, it starts to get a little out of control,” Lewis said. “You have to keep everybody doing something helpful.”
Many Hands Needed
In explaining the role of modern-day mission work, Stidham said several roles are necessary, depending on the need. Some trips are very physical. In some cases, people need medical care, clean water or a functioning home. And there are trips centered around teaching and developing Christian leaders or leading people in worship and family-focused activities.
Celebration Baptist Church
A mission group from Celebration Baptist Church helped dig wells in Ethiopia.
“Each task is equally important,” she said. “It is identifying the needs in each city that we minister in that makes a trip unique for the purpose of the glorification of God.”
Shiell said his church’s mission work involves working with the locals — whether abroad or in the United States — to do things for them that they could not get done with local resources.
“Usually this involves direct relationships with people, marketing, programming and encouragement,” he said. “In Boston, we worked on college campuses for a church that is trying to reach college students. In Haiti, we work with local churches on projects that are important to them.”
In either case, prepping for a mission trip often involves lots of planning, coordination of supplies and praying.
“Several weeks before a trip are spent praying and preparing to go,” Stidham said. “The team knows what they are doing before they ever board the airplane. If it’s building a well, they have materials ready to go on site before they even leave America. If they are spending a week with children, they have activities planned well in advance. When teams arrive at their destination, the ultimate objective is to be Christ-like in every situation. The reason we go is because of the hope we have as Christians to see people begin or renew a relationship with Jesus.”
Team building, impacting local communities with the Gospel, building relationships and making a short-term difference all lend value to mission trip programs, Shiell said, adding, “Oftentimes, the participants in the trips become future leaders in our church. Sharing faith personally is a powerful catalyst in Christianity.”